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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Alexander, Bishop of Hierapolis Euphratensis

Alexander , bp. of Hierapolis Euphratensis and metropolitan in the patriarchate of Antioch; the uncompromising opponent of Cyril of Alexandria, and the resolute advocate of Nestorius in the controversies that followed the council of Ephesus, A.D. 431. His dignity as metropolitan gave him a leading place in the opposition of which the patriarch John of Antioch was the head, and his influence was confirmed by personal character. He may have commenced his episcopate as early as A.D. 404, when with uncompromising zeal he erased from the diptychs of one of his churches the name of Julian, a man famous for sanctity, but accused of Apollinarianism (Baluz. Nov. Coll. Conc. p. 867).

Alexander arrived at the council of Ephesus in company with his brother metropolitan Alexander of Apamea on or about June 20, 431. As soon as the Alexanders discovered Cyril's intention to open the council before John of Antioch's arrival they, on June 21, united with the other bishops of the East in signing a formal act demanding delay (Labbe, Concil. iii. 552, 660, 662; Baluz. 697, 699). The council heeded them not, opened their sittings the next day, June 22, and soon did the work for which they had been summoned, the condemnation of Nestorius. When John at last arrived, June 27, Alexander joined in the counter-council held by him and the prelates of his party in his inn, and signed the acts which cancelled the proceedings of the former council, deposing Cyril and Memnon, bp. of Ephesus, and declaring Cyril's anathemas heretical. As a necessary consequence Alexander was included in the sentence against John, and cut off from communion with Cyril's party (Labbe, iii. 764; Baluz. 507). Later he joined the council held by John at Tarsus, which pronounced a fresh sentence of deposition on Cyril (Baluz. 840, 843, 874); also that at Antioch in the middle of December, ratifying the former acts and declaring adherence to the Nicene faith. A meeting was held at Antioch early in 432, attended by Alexander, when six alternative articles were drawn up, one of which it was hoped Cyril would accept, and so afford a basis of reconciliation ( ib. 764). One declared a resolution to be content with the Nicene Creed and to reject all the documents that had caused the controversy. Another council was summoned at Beroea. Four more articles were added to the six, and the whole were despatched to Cyril. Cyril was well content to express his adherence to the Nicene Creed, but felt it unreasonable that he should be required to abandon all he had written on the Nestorian controversy (Labbe, iii. 114, 1151, 1157, iv. 666; Baluz. 786). Cyril's reply was accepted by Acacius and John of Antioch, and other bishops now sincerely anxious for peace, but not by Alexander or Theodoret (Baluz. 757, 782). The former renewed his charge of Apollinarianism and refused to sign the deposition of Nestorius ( ib. 762–763). This defection of Acacius of Beroea and John of Antioch was received with indignant sorrow by Alexander. It was the first breach in the hitherto compact opposition, and led to its gradual dissolution, leaving Alexander almost without supporters. In a vehement letter to Andrew of Samosata, he bitterly complained of Acacius's fickleness and protested that he would rather fly to the desert, resign his bishopric, and cut off his right hand than recognize Cyril as a Catholic until he had recanted his errors ( ib. 764–765). The month of April, 433, saw the reconciliation of John and the majority of the Oriental bishops with Cyril fully established (Labbe, iv. 659; Cyril, Ep. 31, 42, 44). Alexander was informed of this in a private letter from John, beseeching him no longer to hinder the peace of the church. Alexander's indignation now knew no bounds. He wrote in furious terms to Andrew and Theodoret (Baluz. 799, 800). His language became more and more extravagant, "exile, violent death, the beasts, the fire, the precipice, were to be chosen before communion with a heretic" ( ib. 768, 775, 799, 800, 809, 810), and he even "made a vow to avoid the sight, hearing, or even the remembrance of all who in their hearts turned back again to Egypt" ( ib. 865). Alexander's contumacy had been regarded as depriving him of his functions as metropolitan. John, as patriarch, stepped in, A.D. 434, and ordained bishops in the Euphratensian province. This act, of very doubtful legality, excited serious displeasure, and was appealed against by Alexander and six of his suffragans ( ib. 831–833, 865).

The end was now near at hand. Pulcheria and Theodosius had been carefully informed of the obstinate refusal of Alexander and the few left to support him to communicate with those whose orthodoxy had been recognized by the church. John had obtained imperial rescripts decreeing the expulsion and banishment of all bishops who still refused to communicate with him (ib. 876). This rescript was executed in the case of other recusants; Alexander still remained. John expressed great unwillingness to take any steps towards the deprivation of his former friend. He commissioned Theodoret to use his influence with him. But Theodoret had again to report the impossibility of softening his inflexibility. John now, A.D. 435, felt he could not offer any further resistance to the imperial decrees. But no compulsion was needed: Alexander obeyed the order with calmness, and even with joy at laying aside the burdens and anxieties of the episcopate. He went forth in utter poverty, not taking with him a single penny of his episcopal revenue, or a book or paper belonging to the church. His sole outfit consisted of some necessary documents, and the funds contributed by friends for the hire of vehicles ( ib. 868, 881, 882). The banishment of their beloved and revered bishop overwhelmed the people of Hierapolis with grief. Fear of the civil authorities deterred them from any open manifestation, but they closed the churches, shut themselves up in their houses, and wept in private. In exile at the mines of Phamuthin in Egypt, Alexander died, sternly adhering to his anathemas of Cyril to the last (Tillemont, Mém. Ecclés. xiv. xv.; Labbe, Concil. vol. iii.; Baluz. Nov. Collect. )


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Alexander, Bishop of Hierapolis Euphratensis'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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